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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Kindle or Netbook?

Posted by Marc Bousquet on 01/22/10 at 12:47 PM

Ebooks are here to stay, but how will you read them?

As sales suggest, dedicated reading devices--Kindles, Nooks, etc--have begun to meet the expectations of leisure readers and business travelers. (Those expectations have been changing as well, after the socialization represented by a quarter-century of reading on screen.)

Providing fast, inexpensive and even free access to many titles, portability, adjustable type, searchable text, and a growing list of other functions, these devices meet many readers’ needs on both airplanes and nightstands.

But these dedicated devices just aren’t ready for the prime time of academic and professional use. Limitations and glitches in their annotation functions, difficulties with copying text, and even the need to mimic the paperback book experience present real issues for the scholar, student, lawyer and engineer.

Also, rather than remedy these defects: the teams developing next generations of these devices are focussed on other issues--larger screens, color display, the ability to do email, surf the web and upload other documents and media.

Where are these devices going? It seems pretty clear. Larger, a touch heavier, more functional--their competition is driving them all in the direction of becoming netbooks, the lower end of which retail in the same $200 to $300 price range that the dedicated devices are getting, but which already offer tons more functionality.

Which raises a pretty good question.

Why not just buy a netbook?

Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer free downloadable e-reader software that gets you access to their e-book lines, generally much lower than paperback retail. Many titles aren’t available in both--Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture isn’t offered at Barnes and Noble, for example, but Amazon doesn’t begin to match their rival’s huge line of free classic texts (all of Emile Zola!).

With the netbook you just download both free e-readers and access both lines for the price of one piece of hardware.

These e-reader programs have all the defects of the dedicated readers with respect to annotation and copying, but you can have another program running for notes (and a better keyboard).

Even for night-table reading, I find the netbook e-reader a wonderful experience: no need to disturb anyone else with a light, and supreme choice even after putting your son back to bed at 3 am. Advanced into your bifocal years? No problem--just boost that type size. Are you a speed reader? It’s easy to narrow the width of the page to accommodate those who take big gulps of text at at time.  A $300 netbook has brilliantly backlit screens and lasts nine hours on one charge.

I’m not diminishing the achievements of the codex as a technology, or the marvelous production & distribution associated with these intricate arrangements of wood pulp and chemical ink. I’ve built more bookshelves than most of my colleagues in the humanities and have never sold a book--not one!-- or given one away without replacing the title. I have both e-copies and paper copies of certain books, and use the paper for the heavy-annotation work.

But if you are going to tote around a bunch of media in electronic form for professional and leisure use--and you’d prefer just one or two devices, the netbook seems a smarter addition to your phone than the Kindle or its cousins.

Another thing: academic and professional reading increasingly doesn’t need to emulate the codex experience with hypertext and embedded multimedia. The netbook works for that; Kindle doesn’t.

Of course, pretty soon the Kindle will be a brand of netbook, and this will be a moot point.

Just as with paper, the future of electronic reading will offer many options. The one I’d say is potentially the most interesting and promising of all--Plastic Logic’s one-pound, 8 1/2x11 Que, is based on a technology that could lead to computers as light and flexible as a plastic file folder.

Scheduled to ship this spring, this product is clearly at least a couple of years away from serious implementation--offers to review it didn’t get a response, even of the “we’ll get back to you in a month” variety (which tells you what kind of customer service you can expect when your piece of plastic forgets your business docs!).

x-posted: che


"Why not just buy a netbook?”

Well, I don’t have a netbook or an e-reader, but for extended periods of reading I think the non-luminous display is a must for me. A year ago I thought that an e-reader would require taking the Kindle DRM onboard, but I’m a lot more optimistic now, with things like the Que. I expect to have a couple of them in another year, and to be always forgetting which book is on which reader (law of conservation of nuisance)

By tomslee on 01/22/10 at 04:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"A $300 netbook has brilliantly backlit screens...”

That’s a drawback for me. I have a Sony Reader, and the e-ink technology is much less tiring for my eyes than a computer screen. Mine has LED lighting built in in case I want to read in dim conditions--and it has pretty good touch screen options for annotations, bookmarking, searching, etc. (The touch screen option does create a bit of glare, but I’ve found that’s not any harder to accommodate than finding a good place to read a book.)

You may be right that we are moving towards single multi-function devices (e.g. all the hype about the possible Appletablet computer). But I do like the option of reading something that isn’t backlit, myself, and the Sony Reader is considerably more portable even than my ASUS netbook.

By Rohan Maitzen on 01/22/10 at 06:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Right, I hear you. I was just talking about how I found the netbook as a 3 am don’t wake the spouse reading technology. Plenty of people will feel at $300 a pop that they’ll have both devices. Others will have to choose, that’s all, and I feel the netbook is a good and steadily better replacement for mp3 player, dedicated reader, portable dvd player, you name it.

Just gimme a docking phone and shave off another few ounces and call me Dick Tracy.

By Marc Bousquet on 01/22/10 at 09:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In crafting an answer it’s quite difficult to separate out the sentimental and practical benefits of a big pile of books and the worries, rational and irrational, of what it’s doing to us and of how much power is being given away. But in the end, if I had to, I would go for whatever device has *less* extra functionality, because there is nothing guaranteed to make reading less fun than using a device that allows me to instantly pop off to wikipedia or YouTube or wherever whenever my attention wanders.

By on 01/23/10 at 04:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

When a Kindle, Sony Reader, or Nook is $40, people will not worry about it having only one function. We will see in a matter of days if Apple is going to produce a devise that has the nice no-glare reading experience of e-ink and the ability to toggle into the backlit net also.  Either way, despite the nostalgia for the dusty bookstore of my youth, it’s nice to know that people in far flung places will be able to have access to all of the world’s knowledge.

I think CS Clarke is right in that there will be power given away. Good! This changes the power structure that is filled with stagnant thinking and unnecessary scarcity.. I can’t wait for the Neal Stephenson-type primer (The Diamond Age) that links you to all of world’s, to everything written and many lectures online (Academic Earth)

The People’s University will be on the net and there is no jamming that genie back into the bottle. I worry less about my five year old’s and two month old’s college education because I think it is simply a problem to be solved. It can be done cheaper and it can be crowd sourced. The courses can be developed once and then set free to be remixed in customized ways. Assessment can be crowd-source or computerized. It could be a wiki university inside a thin $33 tablet.

A book that reads you.

By Christopher Hellstrom on 01/25/10 at 01:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I read ebooks on a refurbished Sony Clie PDA that I bought on eBay for $80. Sure, it’s black and white and has a 2 inch wide screen, but it has a *scrollwheel* and I can hold it in one hand. I lie down, hold it 3 inches in front of my face with just one hand, and scroll away. Backlight is fine, except in strong sunlight, but hey, I’m not an outdoor person.

I can’t *afford* anything else at the moment, but if I could, I’m not sure that I’d like to trade my hand-sized appliance for something bigger. Perhaps a Blackberry or an iPhone if the freelance editing business picks up.

By on 01/27/10 at 11:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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